Friday, August 01, 2008

Pipedream: Alternatives to Capitalism

More on the fight over the Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago. From Megan McCardle (h/t Instapundit):

Why aren't there hordes of economists studying meaningful alternatives to market capitalism? Because we've been experimenting with various other systems--both localism and extreme centralization--for over a century, and the experiment produces the same damn result every single time: human lives that are nasty, brutish, and short. And no matter what the professors who signed the Milton Friedman letter may believe, we haven't discovered any alternative to neoliberal policies, other than "be sitting on commodities during a boom", which is good luck, but not really good advice. The problem with neoliberal policies was not that they drove people into poverty, but that they weren't nearly as effective at driving people out again as we once hoped. Yet they are still more effective than anything else we've tried.
And of course a money quote:
The idea that Chicago should scuttle the Milton Friedman Institute because it makes other professors unpopular with economic illiterates is shameful, and moreover, something that I presume few of these "scholars" would tolerate if the ignorant were targeting their own fields. That this should be coming out of a university with Chicago's reputation for intellectual rigor is mortifying.
More from the Economist quoting John Cochrane on the intellectual midgets who oppose the Institute:

If it’s sad to see what 101 professionally distinguished minds at the University of Chicago think about free markets at all, it is to me sadder still how atrociously written this letter is. These people devote their lives to writing on social issues, and teaching freshmen (including mine) how to think and write clearly. Yet it’s awful.

The letter starts with two paragraphs of meaningless throat-clearing. (“This is a question of the meaning of the University’s investments, in all senses.” What in the world does that sentence actually mean?) I learned to delete throat-clearing in the first day of Writing 101. It’s all written in the passive, or with vague subjects. “Many” should not be the subject of any sentence. You should never write “has been put in place,” you should say who put something in place. You should take responsibility in your writing. Write “we,” not “many colleagues.” The final paragraphs wander around without saying much of anything.

The content of course is worse. There isn’t even an idea here, a concrete proposition about the human condition that one can disagree with, buttress or question with facts. It just slings a bunch of jargon, most of which has a real meaning opposite to the literal. “Global South,” “neoliberal global order,” “the service of globalized capital,” “substitution of monetization for democratization.” George Orwell would be proud.

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